And final solutions.
The Wire was a show with few moments of optimism. But there’s a very brief scene in episode 8 of season 3 in which the crime-ravaged sections of the city are portrayed as peaceful and thriving. Residents are shown painting their homes and sweeping the stoops, greeting the mailman and each other with hearty smiles. It’s the only time we see a Baltimore that doesn’t look like hell on acid.
Why the peacefulness? Because a well-meaning police major named “Bunny” Colvin has, in a highly unauthorized and unsanctioned “experiment,” moved all the dealers and users away, shuffling them off to a newly created “safe zone” called Amsterdam (misunderstood by the dealers as “Hamsterdam”) where drug crimes will be ignored, as long as the offenders stay in the quarantine zone. Former mayor Schmoke, who advocated drug decriminalization while in office, appears in a few of these episodes, such was the overlap between real-life Baltimore and Wire Baltimore.
The message of season 3 and the “Baltimore is now at peace” scene? There is only one cure for the city’s ills: physical removal of the bad element. This was the best solution Simon could come up with. The “Hamsterdam” story arc delivered the message loud and clear: The problem with Baltimore is the people. Specifically, the segment of the population that’s not salvageable. The “trash” that needs to be removed isn’t of the banana peel and dog poop variety. The trash is human.
Talk about a downer. Leave it to Simon to give the series’ one truly uplifting scene a terrifying undercurrent.
Soon enough, Colvin’s superiors get wind of what he’s doing. “Hamsterdam” is dismantled and the neighborhoods go back to the war zones they were. But for one shining moment, Bunny Colvin saved Baltimore via population transfer…the segregation of the irredeemable to a quarantined area in order to “salvage what’s still worth salvaging” for the “decent people.” Those are the exact words Simon put in the mouth of one of his most consistently sympathetic, even heroic, characters (Colvin is one of the few Wire characters without a dark side).
“Salvage what’s still worth salvaging” for the “decent people.” On The Wire, that meant Nazi-style resettlement and containment. Unworkable in real life, unthinkable in America. Simon may claim that Trump’s a Nazi, but he’s the one who dreamed up a “final solution.”
A “final solution” that will never and can never become policy.
More and more, I think the only “solution” to a problem like Baltimore is the one I outlined in arguably my grimmest column to date, back in February 2018. Mainstream conservatives will continue to spew their fairy-tale solutions (“Oh boy, Spanky—a scrap metal drive!”) and leftists will continue to spew theirs (“Reparations! More welfare!”). But in the end, like it or not, we’re heading for the age of the de facto “urban reservation.” The salvageable people will get out, the salvageable surrounding land will be gentrified, and the remaining detritus will be boxed in and forgotten. The fact that most Americans expressed outrage at the recent spate of mass shootings while continuing to ignore gun crimes in black inner cities shows the increasing popularity of “What happens on the reservation is none of my business.”
We can argue nature vs. nurture and American dream vs. oppressive racism all we want. The solution will eventually take shape in spite of our grandstanding.
I think Cole is on target overall with this. But if recent history is any guide, “the salvageable people will get out” all right—and then rapidly turn the places they flee to into the exact same kind of shitholes they contributed so much to fucking up in the first place.